October 29th, 2016


(no subject)

Book Review: Westmorland Alone, by Ian Sansom
I picked this up earlier this year at a work book sale. The title caught my eye, of course, and on further inspection it looked like a light-hearted pastiche of golden-age crime fiction.

I wasn't far wrong. Stephen Sefton, the narrator, is an assistant and photographer to "Professor" Morley and his daughter Miriam, who are compiling a series of "County Guides" (possibly in the style of Arthur Mee's The King's England). On this trip, Sefton travels by train to meet Morley at Appleby, but as he arrives there is a train accident. Morley, like Holmes, is a polymath unaffected by the human emotions of tragedy, and carries on with his research without much sensitivity, taking the party to archaeological excavations at Shap and a fair at Egremont. A predictably small cast of predictably dubious characters continuously appear in the story, and there are various twists and turns in the plot.

The character of Morley struck me as somewhat reminiscent of Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen; a detective with a love for the motor car (although Morley himself doesn't drive it) and with enough of a common touch when he chooses to mix with cabbages and kings. Sefton peppers his narration with references to Morley's books, which is fun at first, but becomes tedious. Miriam is intelligent and fun, but has little to do other than to drive and to make all the waspish comments. The precise date of events is initially unclear - Sefton has returned from the Spanish Civil War, which gives a rough indication - and later in the book, 1937 is established as the date. The narration is made far later, as Sefton reflects on Beeching's axe, but this doesn't feel right for the level of detail he is able to recall. As such it was enjoyable but I did find a few aspects a little irritating.